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Lots of ups and downs for Lady Horns in opening games

The Lady Longhorns were one of more than 20 teams to take part in the eighth annual ASA High School Fast Pitch Friendly this past weekend at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City. Opening with back-to-back JV games against Sullivan Central and University High, Johnson County’s girls also got to test their abilities against bigger schools like Science Hill and conference rivals like Unicoi County on the varsity level.
Playing six games in all, the weekend was full of ups and downs. Both of the opening University High and Sullivan Central games ended in tough defeats with the Lady Longhorns finding trouble making good contact at bat and consequently making just one complete run by catcher Jayme Jennings, who took first on a walk. That was in the first game against University High, which ended in an 8-1 loss, but the Central game was no better, seeing Johnson County make just two base hits in four innings. Those came from Kelsey Duperry and Tiffany Price who made it as far as third and second respectively.
Making things worse, there were numerous missed balls in the field on defense, and few communication errors from some of the younger players that proved costly in the final score. Even so, Head Coach Dana Smith noted that this is exactly why the team takes part in these pre-season events. “The whole point of us playing here on a play day with JV and Varsity both is I get to see what combinations I can use on the field, what combinations work and what combinations don’t work,” Smith said.  “I also see where we have to work this week and next week prior to the regular season. I know what they can and can’t do after we see this and they get different pitchers and different situations in there.”
After those two tough defeats the Varsity lineup was in action Saturday and did a much better job on the offense. One of the first wins of the day was a game against the Unaka Lady Rangers, where Johnson County put up 12 runs, all of which were in the first two innings. Cindy Eddington, Jayme Jennings, Hope Nelson, Demi Blevins, and Meghan Walters all landed first base hits, and added with numerous walks, Johnson County got off to a great start that the Lady Rangers could never overcome.
Yet, the most surprising victory came in the huge 5-4 win over the Science Hill Lady Toppers. Opposite to the Unaka game, all of the Science Hill runs came late in the fourth inning with Kalli Sluder and Kelsey Duperry getting on base with walks, while Cindy Eddington managed a first base hit and Meghan Walters stole the show with a triple. The defense was on top of their game as well, keeping the Lady Toppers in check with catches both deep in field as well as several strikeouts by Eddington from the mound.
That victory aside, Johnson County finished out the day with a tough defeat at the hands of the Unicoi County Lady Blue Devils who walked away with a seemingly easy 5-0 win. Considering Unicoi’s position as one of the top ranked teams in the conference, the Lady Longhorns got a good glimpse of how far they have to go, but as Coach Smith pointed out there is also a lot of time and games on the road ahead.
 “Do I think they did well?” Smith questioned. “They played really well at times and did really great things at times, and then sometimes I just wondered what was going on in their heads. I think it was a more mental day for them. They were a little hesitant and not sure of themselves today and I know that now.  I also know that prior to us playing Elizabethton on the first day of the season we’ve got Pigeon Forge next weekend and we’ll get to see a lot of pitchers. We also saw a lot of pitches here, so we can sit down and have a conversation, look at the book and say ‘what did you do here,’ ‘let’s look at this count’, ‘let’s see what you did, how many you fouled off.’ ‘Were you on the pitch, were you off the pitch.’ I can learn an awful lot myself from this.”